Monday, March 31, 2008

Bridal Shower

Goldfish had a bridal shower tonight so Chico and I were on our own - we spent the time walking up the backside of Bunker Hill. You can see Chico is looking fabulous as usual and I scraped off the beard for Spring cleaning because between the big rain storm the other night and the warm temperatures I think winter is on the run! You can see in the top photo how much snow has melted in the past week . . .

Fast Track to the Beach

The pictures of the ice encrusted rocks I posted a couple days ago were taken quite by accident! Goldfish and I were snowshoeing along the bay, picking our way across snow slides that were icy from repeatedly freezing and thawing and trying to avoid the rocks that would occasionally tumble down from above. There was a tricky spot on this particular slide but I was waiting patiently, snapping a few photos, when I heard a whoosh and saw Goldfish take the express elevator to the beach. She was laughing pretty hard so I snapped a photo and slid down to join her where we stripped off the snowshoes and continued the days walk below instead. You can see why it takes awhile in the spring for the road crews to clear the road to Summers Bay!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Island Life

When I was walking Chico tonight I was struck by the difference between Unalaska and my home state of Maine - although I am just a couple years away from living the same number of years in both states, Maine will always be "home". New England abounds with history, seeping from every pore; the architecture, the statues in the parks of historical figures, the museums, and endless volumes categorizing and documenting, well, everything - the people, the land, the birds, the animals, the ocean, the fish, the trails, the plants, the rocks, the geology, the hydrology, all are explained and studied. If you decided to move to any state in New England and wanted to research the area first you could find information that would answer almost any question you could dream up.

Out here, I live and work and sleep literally on top of the longest continuously inhabited coastal settlement in North America - with history spanning ten thousand years - right on the ithmus of land where the river empties into the sea. A true Sense of Place. Yet I can't just hop on the internet and Google for information or order books from Amazon to explain what I see all around me. There are whispers of maybe a guy that lives somewhere here who knows about the geology of the area. The University of Alaska is conducting dives along the Aleutians to try to catalog the underwater flora and fauna that have never been seen and are discovering brand new species as they go. The weather patterns are so unpredictable and extreme that you really never know what the day will bring. And when I go for walks - anywhere here - it seems like new mysteries are waiting to be discovered.

Honestly, when I found how very little published information there was to explain this world around me I was frustrated. Research is in my blood and I do it well and I don't think I realized there were limits. I always thought there was a book out there to show me anything I wanted to know. Slowly, step by step, I almost feel like I've settled back in time to where information was gleaned from direct observation. I'm surrounded by the unknown and everyday I find out something new - not something like a new item of gossip about who is doing what with whom - things like where foxes go for fresh water, and where you can find crab shells dropped from eagle perches, how the wind interacts with the land, and where the birds go at night. Information is a lot tougher to come by out here but its worth seems greater when hard won.

Anyways, enough rambling and off to bed for me . . . cheers!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Along the Beach

The freezing surf had made some fantastic designs along the beach - how we ended up on the beach today is another story all together which I'll tell tommorow!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Snowshoeing in the Valley

The last couple nights Goldfish and I have been heading out to the valley after work to snowshoe and give Chico his run - beautiful place to hike but horrible flat light for photography. The wind whistles through, on our backs on the first half of the hike, in our face on the way back to the car, sculpting the snow into fantastic shapes, filling our tracks within minutes, Chico seemingly indifferent to its push or pull.

Most of the crab fleet has either gotten their quota or has ceased operations until the ice situation gets better - it has been an especially bad year for sea ice with one of the boats that delivers to our work losing all but 17 of their 200 pots under the ice.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sadness In Dutch

My first day off since January 1st was marred by the breaking story of the sinking of the catcher processer Alaska Ranger today resulting in the deaths of four crew members with a fifth still missing about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. The same Bering Sea that looks like mercury in the last rays of the sun along Little South America took a 200 foot vessel to the bottom reminding us all how dangerous this industry of putting seafood on the table can be. My heart goes out to the families of the lost fishermen.

Happy Easter!

Goldfish and I dyed eggs tonight, six apiece, and I think they all turned out great. If you've never used the elastic band wrapping technique I recommend it! Hope everyone has a wonderful Easter - cheers!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Too Many Eagles?

Goldfish and I snowshoed up the back side of Bunker Hill tonight in a nice gale and I'm just starting to thaw after a hot shower and a giant mug of hot tea. That Goldfish, she's tougher than she looks . . . . I had to consult a windchill chart when I got home and was surprised to see at an air temp of 20 degrees, an increase in wind from 20 mph (baseline tonight) to gusts of easily 60 mph (almost knocking me down) the windchill only drops 8 degrees. The moral of the story is for me to dress more warmly when Goldfish is picking the workout, and that conditions looked and felt a lot more extreme than they actually were at the summit - I just knew I had to keep moving, and fast, or I was going to get hurt by the cold. I had a nice iced up beard going by the time we got back to the car and two ice horns growing out of my eyebrows.

The picture above I took last month and I think it demonstrates that sometimes there is such a thing as too many eagles - they aren't quite as majestic when there are 50 or 60 in the frame. It was however a great opportunity to observe group behavior and I did come away with a couple nice close-ups of individual eagles that I've posted earlier.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Night Falls on Iliuliuk Bay

Goldfish and I were snowshoeing the evening I took this and it seemed like night was literally falling into the bay, the darkness stealing in from the east, the western horizon on fire with the last rays of the sun. Of course with a snow covered landscape it never really gets dark. . . . . .

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gossip, the Eagle and the Duck

Let's see, what's been going on out here in the last couple days . . . rumor has it that Mike Rowe was on a boat in the vicinity of the Pacific Glacier when it caught fire on Goldfish's birthday and actually took part in the fire fighting effort - look for that to show up in either Deadliest Catch or Dirtiest Jobs . . . and speaking of the Discovery Channel, Myth Busters is coming to Alaska sometime this year as well . . . . . thanks for the hot gossip E!

I was walking at noon on Saturday and saw an eagle bobbing on the surface of the water like a duck. As I watched it attempted to take off several times, each time not quite making it. Finally it took off - minus the duck it was clenching in its talons below the water line. The duck bobbed to the surface in a daze and the eagle banked sharply and dove for it again, missing twice because the duck dove under at the last second but getting it on the third try. Me? All I had was my cell phone, no camera, but I snapped a couple shots so Dad, if you're reading this in Maine, please dig through my laptop case and load any cords you find as well as any software CDs in a priority mailer and send it my way, I'd like to upload the pics from the cell phone and see if they are any good because it was an amazing experience. It was raining and it was a bit off shore so I'm not hopeful, but still . . . .

Sorry I've been absent lately and have not been reading my blog roll friends, it has been pretty hectic. We ordered some wedding bands out of Ireland and they should be here tomorrow or Wednesday . . . . cheers, gotta hit the sack.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Photo Journey Turns Inward

What I was looking for on Little South America was to spend 30 days exploring what in many ways is a semi-closed ecosystem; I wanted to see how the animals lived, where they got water, what their patterns of movement where, what they ate, how the light moved across the landscape, where the birds roosted, where the fox dens were, what kind of sea birds and marine mammals frequented the surrounding waters. I saw many things both breathtakingly beautiful and ugly beyond belief. I read stories in the snow - I saw traffic patterns and watering holes and ambush sites where life and death struggles had occurred. I saw ptarmigan, foxes, eagles, ravens, many types of seabirds, and sea lions. I also found a pile of dead carcasses, five foxes and a duck, and a mostly eaten bald eagle lying on the beach.

The most important discovery I made didn't take place on Little South America; I ended up exploring the nature of a relationship and fairness and love. You see, in less than a month Goldfish and I are getting married, and my decision to spend 30 evenings on Little South America exploring (with my long hours, that time constitutes essentially all my free time each day) was maybe not the most mature idea I've had . . . . . and the ensuing discussions brought us both to a lot better place, the terrain we covered as important as any I was hiking.

I will always be pushing the envelope more than Goldfish - we're just wired differently. We have different dreams but are facing in the same direction and maybe someday I'll drag her with me to Little South America 30 days in a row but for now we're walking together and life is good. I'm going to have to put this one on the shelf for now . . .

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Photo Journey - Day 2

Last night was my second evening spent on Little South America, and also the second time I went to the top of Bunker Hill. Whether winter or summer the view from the summit is always worth the hike! For purposes of this little exploration, "an evening spent" will be a minimum of 2 hours. Challenges yesterday were the cold draining the batteries on my digital camera very rapidly (I only took 8 pictures, and missed a good one because of it), and ice forming in the feed line on my hydration pack. Miss Ker-Bear and Kali took a brief break from work to join Goldfish and Chico, sliding on the lower slopes while I hiked to the top. Daylight until 9:30 - I'm loving it!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

30 Days in Little South America - A Photo Journey (Day 1)

I've decided to spend evenings after work for the next 30 days on Little South America, the part of the island that includes Bunker Hill, really exploring and uncovering the wonder like an onion, layer by layer. Last night I would have to say the highlight was watching Chico play with the foxes. You can see in the bottom picture it was "Game Over" when the fox executed what I can only assume is a patented "Defy Physics By Scrambling Over An Overhanging Cornice" move, leaving Chico completely befuddled.
Let me state here for all that I love all animals, and I've watched Chico run after foxes enough to know two things: first, he doesn't want to really catch them - if he gets too close, he stops and sniffs the ground, pretending not to see the fox, until it escapes. Secondly, the foxes seems to like the game as well, and will sit and wait for Chico to catch up so the chase can resume.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Got To Get A Bird Book

If anyone knows what these duck/goose - like birds are, let me know. As you can see in the top photo, there were hundreds of them, lining the shore and floating in the harbor. I've been meaning to find a bird book that covers the Aleutians but haven't found one I liked yet.
Tonight I took Chico and snowshoed to the top of Bunker Hill; I'll post some pictures tommorow. I'm thinking about really exploring that area in the evenings for the next month or so, and seeing if I can just post pictures from there exclusively - sort of a photo essay of Little South America (that's what we call the part of the island where Bunker Hill is located because of the shape). I'm loving the extra light after work!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday Five

It's that time of week again where I leave the negative behind and focus on the things that exceeded my expectations this week . . . . of course the very astute among you may observe the Friday Five is being actually posted on Sunday, which brings me to:

1. The level of my fatigue - definitely exceeded my expectations. I'm not sure this is a positive thing, but after uploading the photo for this post last night I was so close to bonking out right at the laptop I decided discretion was the better part of valor and I retreated to the bedroom where I spent a lovely 10 hours recouping from a tough week. Of course there is no real weekend out here during the season, but I felt a lot fresher this morning!

2. Vermont exceeded my expectations. I mean, maple syrup, aways a treat, but passing a meassure to arrest George Bush and Dick Cheney on sight - that's going above and beyond . . .

3. Dyson vacuums - Goldfish got a Dyson Animal for her birthday a couple weeks ago and the thing just kicks butt - German engineering meets dog hair, it makes our tired carpets look new. And free shipping to Unalaska? Priceless . . . . .

4. My movie pick for the week was Juno - both Goldfish and I enjoyed it immensely. It combined realism with hope, a delicate trick, and the acting was great.

5. And finally, my family. I've been rolling out some pretty big news this week as time allowed (it's tough to get in phone calls with long hours and time zone differences) and without exception, from coast to coast and points in between, they were all suportive and loving. I'm a very lucky guy . . . . .

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ummmmmm . . . .

Some days by the time I get to sit down at the computer my mind is completely empty and I can't even think of a title for a posting, let alone anything intelligent to say. Most of those days are when I don't walk the dog - tonight I made phone calls instead. Two lessons there: fresh air clears the head and clarifies the thinking, and life is chock full of choices and phone calls to family are every bit as important as blog entries.

Two of our pollock boats are heading back to Seattle for the season break and we're flying the first batch of procesors home on Monday; "A" Season is winding to a close . . . .

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Not My Photo . . .

This photo was taken in St. Paul and has been circulating around out here - you may know that many crab boats deliver to St. Paul during opilio season instead of Dutch Harbor because it is closer. This photo was taken recently and shows the ice breaker Hercules clearing a path for three crab boats to leave St. Paul. Dutch Harbor processors have gotten more crab deliveries lately due to ice problems up north.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nice Bit-O-Nasty

Today was pretty super fabulous, weather-wise - sunny and warm with just a hint of a light breeze, it made me believe spring is just around the corner. We all went snowshoeing after work and were treated to feeding sea lions and a nice sunset. I can't wait until this weekend when Daylight Savings Time starts, that will extend my range on after work hikes with good light until 9 or so and the days getting longer all the time. It's hard to believe there is just a little over 6 weeks until vacation!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Big Sky, Little Boat

There is always so much going on with the sky out here - birds soaring, crazy cloud formations, wind whipped snow - and the sky seems huge. The big ocean, sure, everyone knows about that but its the big sky I think that can make a boat seem tiny.

Had an interesting walk with Chico tonight - he finally found a fox to chase and it turns out he doesn't really know what to do when he gets close to catching it. He is going to sleep VERY well tonight . . . .

Season is Almost Over

We're close to landing all our pollock quota and cod should be closing this coming week as well. That will just leave just crab landings, and not many of those, so we can start flying processors home for the season break. We're got more crab deliveries than normal last week because the Priblofs were iced in but are clear now.

I'm heading to bed, cheers everyone . . .

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Boat Porn

Those of you that know boats can probably imagine the level of my excitement - which words cannot actually adequately convey - when I'm around the patrol boat used by the Port of Dutch Harbor. Some might say slapping twin 225's on a light weight glorified Zodiac is too much - I'm just sorry I didn't think of it first . . . . . .